September 11th, 2019 10:01 AM
Sleuths: Fletcher Neri (far left) and George Summy, with the help of George's mom, Carrie, embarked on a full-blown history project after finding a World War II-era dog tag in the backyard of a home in the 700 block of Forest Avenue in River Forest. | Courtesy Carrie Summy
By Lacey Sikora
'The Mystery of the Missing Dog Tag." It sounds a bit like the title to an Encyclopedia Brown book, and the title characters are just as inquisitive and relentless in tracking down clues to solve a mystery as the famous sleuth of children's literature.
River Forest residents George Summy and Fletcher Neri spent the waning days of summer playing in their yards in the 700 block of Forest Avenue and preparing Fletcher's yard for a new treehouse addition.
While digging holes for the foundation of the tree house, the pair discovered some unusual items that propelled them on journey that uncovered local connections to World War II, an attempted murder and the Black Panthers trial.
The boys, both 10, each found some interesting relics in the dirt cast aside when the foundation holes were dug in Fletcher's yard. Fletcher found a pair of rusted scissors in the dirt pile one day before their play was interrupted. The next time they got together in the yard, George found another buried treasure.
"I was just like, 'I see something there; I'm going to pick it up," George said. "I thought it was just a hunk of rusty metal."
He took the found item home to his dad, who suggested they soak it in white vinegar to clean it up and discovered they had an old dog tag on their hands.
"I took one look at it and knew it was really old, because copper wasn't used in dog tags after World War II," said George's mom, Carrie Summy. "I had chills when I saw what it was."
With Carrie's assistance in online research, the boys uncovered quite a bit of information about the dog tag's original owner and created a timeline of events. The dog tag included the name Wayland Cedarquist, and next of kin was listed as B. Cedarquist.
Armed with that, the boy detectives were able to find out quite a bit of information. Records indicated that a Berger Cedarquist lived at 1444 Forest Ave. in River Forest in 1938, and in 1942 lived at 1025 Bonnie Brae.
More research helped them piece together information about the Cedarquist family. Berger was a general sales manager at the Beattie Manufacturing Company, a rug firm, and was married to Ruth.
The couple lived in River Forest until 1943, when they moved to New Jersey, where Berger died in 1953. Berger and Ruth had two children: Wayland and Jean. In 1938, both siblings got married -- Wayland to Lois O'Brien and Jean to William Delap Steele. Both Wayland and Steele fought in World War II.
Things took a turn for the dramatic when Carrie Summy uncovered a news story from 1948 indicating that Jean Steele stabbed her brother, Wayland, in her home at 119 S. Home Ave. in Oak Park, where he and his mother were visiting prior to taking Steele to a sanitarium. Wayland survived and Jean was sent to a sanitarium in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.
Summy also discovered that Wayland Cedarquist was an honors graduate from the University of Illinois in 1938, and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1941. Records from 1950 show him and Lois living in Lake Forest. A news article from 1972 recounts that Wayland Cedarquist was an assistant to the special prosecutor in the Black Panthers trial and uncovered new evidence in the case. Lois and Wayland raised three children, Kris, Karen and Kay. Wayland died in 1998, and Lois died in 2007.
Armed with their timeline, George and Fletcher made an appointment with the Oak Park River Forest Historical Society to see what else they could discover. Upon arrival, George told Executive Director Frank Lipo he had three questions he wanted to answer. "What happened to the sister? How did the dog tag end up where we found it? How do we find the descendants now so we can return the dog tag to them?"
Lipo and his assistant, Rachel Berlinski, praised the pair's initial research efforts which turned up so much information, and Lipo provided some lessons into how to delve into historical research to solve a mystery.
"It's lucky you have a last name that's a little different," Lipo said. "It's not Jones or Smith. That really helped get us started with your online research. I'm impressed with your research. There's a fair amount of good things found on-line. The question is can we fill in the gaps?"
He noted that many older homes in the area, such as the Summy house, which dates back to the late 1800s, were built without indoor plumbing. Once indoor plumbing arrived, outhouses in the backyard were removed, and the holes filled with garbage, which can be discovered generations later.
While the outhouses were long gone before Wayland Cedarquist returned from the war, Lipo said the neighborhood might offer other clues to how the dog tag came to be buried in a yard which seemingly had no connection to the family.
After dashing the young boys' hope that there was some connection to bathroom humor and the misplaced dog tag, Lipo asked about the layout of their neighborhood. Carrie Summy recounted that behind the Neri home, which is adjacent to the Summy home, a home was built in the 1970s, and Lipo agreed that the disturbance from that new construction might have had something to do with the dog tag getting buried nearby.
While at the historical society, the enterprising sleuths went through old River Forest census records, which helped them solve the mystery. The 1930 census lists Edward L. O'Brien as the homeowner of 702 Forest Ave. The school teacher had three children -- Donald, E. Morse and Lois, who later married Wayland Cedarquist.
Carrie Summy says they deduced that Wayland's in-laws, or perhaps Lois herself, buried or threw out Wayland's dog tag in the backyard before the O'Briens sold the houses in 1959.
She notes that Lois' obituary lists three surviving daughters, who would probably be in their 70s. The next step in the mystery is to track them down and return the dog tags.